This is Why Scientists Say It’s Easier To Leave A Child To Die In A Hot Car Than You Think

Summer is the season when the news media is filled with stories of children being left to die in hot cars. You may read such stories and think to yourself, “I would never do such a thing!” Unfortunately, as Slate reports, it’s not so cut-and-dry.

To be fair, there are lots of reasons kids are left to die in hot cars. In at least one case, that of Georgia toddler Cooper Harris, it was a deliberate act of murder, as NBC News reports. In some situations, it’s institutional failure of a school or day care center’s policies, as was the case of an unnamed Florida child. This child died after being left in a hot van at a day care center, as reported by The Inquisitr, when the center’s procedures weren’t properly followed. And in others, a parent has made the decision to leave a child in a car while they went shopping, or drinking, or gambling, or what-have-you.

But in the case of 1-year-old twins, Phoenix and Luna Rodriguez, their father, Juan Rodriguez, allegedly simply forgot to drop them off at day care on his way to work. He now faces charges of criminally negligent homicide, according to New York’s WABC-TV.

You may be tempted to judge Rodriguez, and say that you would never do such a thing. But neuroscientist David Diamond tells Consumer Reports that the brain simply doesn’t work that way.

“It’s a matter of circumstances. It can happen to everyone.”

It has to do with the patterns we form in our brains. Do the same thing every day — drive this route to work, do this before work, or that after work — and your brain forms a pattern. And a disruption to that pattern throws everything off.

“We have to accept that the human memory is flawed. That includes when loving, attentive parents lose awareness of their children when they are in a car,” he says.

Diamond provides other examples of this flawed system that don’t involve leaving children in cars. Surgeons have left tools inside of patients, for example, or aircraft pilots have forgotten to activate the wing flaps.

Meanwhile, efforts are being made to come up with solutions to the problem. One low-tech option, offered by a Salt Lake City hospital, is giving parents a lanyard that they can wear. As Deseret News reports, the lanyard indicates that the parent was driving with a child; if a bystander sees the lanyard but no child, they can alert the parent to the fact that they don’t have a child with them and that the child may have been left in a car.